Advocates make last-minute pitch to site Amtrak depot on isthmus

Monday, August 03, 2009

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

Fast forward to 2013.

President Barack Obama, fresh off a narrow re-election victory over Sarah Palin, is celebrating the opening of new Amtrak service between his hometown of Chicago and Madison.

Obama is riding with Gov. Jim Doyle and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz as the train rumbles past East Towne and under Wisconsin 30 and starts across East Washington Avenue.

"There's the Capitol," says Obama, looking out the window of a new Spanish-built Talgo passenger car. But instead of slowing, the train sweeps around the corner at First Street and starts heading back out of town.

"Wait a second," says the confused president. "I thought you promised we'd stop in Madison for a beer?"

Doyle looks sheepishly at Cieslewicz before answering.

"We will eventually stop, Mr. President, but the new Madison train station is actually out at the airport," an embarrassed Doyle explains. "We'll have to get a ride back into town."

"Forget that," says Obama, grabbing his briefcase and ordering the engineer to stop at East Johnson Street. "I'm thirsty. You airport guys can meet me later."


With federal funding for rail service between Madison and Milwaukee tantalizingly close, a group of downtown advocates -- including a prominent real estate developer and a successful restaurant owner -- is making a pitch for locating a new train station at First Street and East Washington Avenue rather than the Dane County Regional Airport.

The so-called "Yahara Station" is on the existing mainline route that would bring Amtrak trains in from Milwaukee. Supporters note that the tracks at that point are just 1.7 miles from the Capitol, compared to 5.1 miles for the airport site.
Moreover, they argue a First Street location has unlimited potential for sparking "transit-oriented" development of apartments, stores or offices that could generate millions in new property tax revenues while providing a catalyst for the long-awaited overhaul of the blighted East Washington Avenue corridor.

"Compare that to the airport, where you have zero opportunity for anything like that," says Barry Gore, a Madison-based urban planner who has previously worked on transit issues in Chicago and the Twin Cities.